waiting for the other shoe to drop

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Jean05, Dec 13, 2005.

  1. Jean05 Senior Member

    Ireland, English
    Hi folks,

    I heard this 1st on 'Sex and the City' but recently saw it in a self-assessment quiz. The question was "Are you waiting for the other shoe to drop?" Wha does this mean? "Are you waiting for everything to be perfect?"

    All suggestions welcome

  2. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    This is a phrase that comes from overcrowded urban apartment living, or from the tenement days of immigration, when so many people lived "at close quarters."

    You go to bed and are sleepy, but the guy upstairs is doing the same thing at about the same time. You hear isolated noises, but you have the kind of busy and overanalytic mind that weaves them together into a coherent picture.

    You'd like to tune him out, but you've heard his routine so many times you can just about screen a mental movie about what's going on. He sits on the edge of the bed, takes off his shoes (two noises) and then there's a pause just long enough for him to hang up the rest of his clothes, then you hear him flop on the squeaky springs. Usually he coughs for a while till his body gets used to the horizontal positions. After a while, you can even hear him snoring.

    Usually this doesn't bother you too much, it's just that you'd rather not be at such close quarters. But once you hear the snoring, suggesting slumber, you get sleepy yourself, and the noises from upstairs even help you nod off.

    It's an unvarying routine, indicative of the kind of order you'd like to see, in general, in life.

    Then one night there's a variation. He paces back and forth for a bit longer than usual, and finally sits on the edge of the bed. Slight squeaking bedspring sound. He takes off one shoe and tosses it in the corner as usual, so he won't stumble over it when he gets up in 3.44 hours for a nature call-- the plumbing involved in that sometimes disturbs your sleep, but only briefly. If you wake up, you go ahead and get up to lighten the load in your own bladder-- might as well. You and this stranger you've never seen-- two lives that develop a sort of syncronicity based on noises through the wall, or (from your point of view) through the ceiling in your room, the floor in his. Irritating but, at intervals, comforting-- so little in urban life of a couple generations ago could be called that.

    So he tosses the shoe. Then the audible signals, the cues in this little nocturnal soap opera-- cease. Several beats pass, then several minutes-- damned if he still hasn't tossed that other shoe.

    You sit wondering what has disrupted the pattern. Your busy mind creates pattern, invents scenarios, craves closure-- but all you can do is wait.

    The dark, absurdist humor in this classic situation is, you wait all night for the sound of a second shoe that never drops. In the hustle and bustle and sometimes intolerable din of city life-- you are kept awake by silence.

    "Waiting for the other shoe to drop" has to do with suspense. Being overly worrisome of how some latent or incipient situation is going to come out. It is unfunny and neurotic and involves minor-grade suffering-- but also the slightly-unbalanced dark comedy of the Human Condition. Extremely difficult tone for a writer to get exactly right. But we sit up nights trying, one shoe off and one shoe on-- the action of the typewriter would explain everything to the guy downstairs, but the writer is almost too tired to strike those keys hard enough to drive ink through the ribbon and onto the page. Even at it's most frantically inspired, the sound of it is not quite loud enough to penetrate the floor.

    Well you did say all suggestions welcome. Now I think I'll take off that other shoe, shut down the keyboard and go to bed.
  3. You little ripper! Senior Member

    Australian English
    It actually means to wait for the unexpected. Its source is said to come from the following story.
    A man comes in late at night to a lodging house, rather the worse for wear. He sits on his bed, drags one shoe off and drops it on the floor. Guiltily remembering everyone around him is trying to sleep, he takes the other one off much more carefully and quietly puts in on the floor. He then finishes undressing and gets into bed. Just as he is drifting off to sleep, a shout comes from the man in the room below: “Well, drop the other one then! I can’t sleep, waiting for you to drop the other shoe!”. This may come from music hall or vaudeville, though it would seem that nobody has been able to tie it down more precisely.
  4. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Looks like we cross-posted, and agree that the issue is suspense. With a comic twist.

    I think you'll agree that Vaudeville's popularity was very grassroots, and that the routines that struck such a chord with the indigent, immigrant populations just after the turn of the 20th century-- were drawn from everyday life.

    In the skit version an awful lot of pantomiming went on between the one shoe and the exasperated complaint from downstairs. These were the days of silent movies, and I'm sure the guy went through his whole bag of tricks displaying escalating exasperation before finally "speaking up."

    The "second shoe" skit was a "slow burn" routine, the sort of thing Jimmy Durante did in a low-comedic way, and Bert Lahr. Lou Costello "broadened" the slow burn and brought it to the movies. This is also shtick the much-underrated Three Stooges thrived on, long-fuse situations to break up their frenetic-paced comedic outbursts.

    How I'd love to see a truly inclusive encyclopedia of words and phrases that came from Vaudeville and other popular east-coast-urban entertainment forms of that era. "If I could vok det vey, I voodent need de talcum powder!"
  5. Jean05 Senior Member

    Ireland, English
    Thanks Guys,
    I certainly hope you're not losing sleep over this one.:)
    I guess for my quiz it would mean: "Are you waiting for something to happen in your life before you relax" Nice.

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